In a 1945 paper, George Stigler, the 1982 winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, examined what would be the cheapest way in which a 154 pound man could meet his National Research Council recommended dietary requirements of 3000 calories a day, including 70 grams of protein and a range of other vitamins and minerals.
Using 1939 prices, Stigler found that an annual diet consisting of 370 pounds of wheat flour, 57 cans of evaporated milk, 111 pounds of cabbage, 23 pounds of spinach and 285 pounds of navy beans would meet the requirements. A nice vegetarian diet. Using 1945 prices, the evaporated milk and beans are substituted out for pancake flour and pork liver (leading to over 700 pounds of wheat and pancake flour to be consumed annually). Each diet costs roughly $600 a year in 2012 dollar terms.
One interesting element of the diet, and the NRC recommendation, is the low protein content. The protein leverage hypothesis (which I have blogged about previously), suggests that we have evolved a stronger propensity to regulate protein content than non-protein calories. As a result, around 14 per cent of the diet should be protein to allow one to feel full and prevent overeating. Given that less than 10 per cent of the Stigler diet is protein, the Stigler diet will leave someone permanently hungry – unless they want to splash out on some extra wheat and pancake flour.
A few minutes of googling did not turn up someone’s “year on the Stigler diet”.